Methane Hydrates May Be The Solution To Japan’s Energy Crisis

  • Date: 19/02/14
  • Danielle Demetriou, The Daily Telegraph

A Japanese company is planning to extract methane hydrate from the seabed with the goal of creating a new domestic energy source for resources-poor Japan.

Mitsui Engineering and Shipbuilding Co. (MES) hopes to become a pioneer in the field of extracting methane hydrate, also known as “burning ice”, a compound believed to exist in abundance beneath seas around Japan.

The company, which has previously developed offshore oilfields, has set up a new department devoted to tapping into the nation’s underwater energy extraction potential.

It has also designed an underwater robot capable of diving to depths of nearly 23,000 ft to assist the test-mining of mineral ores, with manufacturing discussions reportedly underway with an undisclosed North European company.

Although a timescale has not yet been made public in relation to when they will start the extraction process, Masatoshi Inui, a spokesman at MES, told the Telegraph: “It’s true that the company plans to explore and extract seabed resources, including methane hydrate and rare metals.

“We have set up the Ocean Business Promotion Department which plans to create a marine resources development field as a medium to long term core revenue business.”

Methane hydrate is fast emerging as a major potential energy source of the future, with vast quantities of gas trapped in ice crystals buried deep beneath oceans and the Arctic permafrost.

A growing number of countries, including the US, Canada and China, are starting to explore the possibility of tapping into methane hydrate production as a natural gas source.

However, resources-poor Japan is particularly ambitious in this field, a situation that is perhaps unsurprising in the light of the energy crisis triggered by the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. [...]

Japan last year became the first country to extract natural gas from frozen methane hydrate beneath the seabed, an operation in which MES was involved having assisted in the creation of a deep-sea drilling vessel.

With studies estimating that as much as 39 trillion cubic ft of methane hydrate may exist in Japan’s offshore deposits, the government hopes to tap into such resources with production technologies in place by 2018.

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